My electric wheelchair is not the world’s most convincing camouflage tool, but that’s the way it goes. I remember I was 12 when I asked a girl out for the first time. Her response was as expected as it was cruel. “Why would I want to date you? You’re in a wheelchair! Get lost!” As much of a cow as she now appears to be, it was a crushing blow, and in retrospect, it started the long slide into my first battle of depression, which lasted for three years on and off.Reading this in retrospect it occurs to me that perhaps I was the problem, I was so preoccupied with overcoming my disability that I was not concentrating on developing my personality. Lately this unpublished entry has been on my mind.
Since then, I have fancied girls both in and out of wheelchairs. Like any man my age I have had tons upon tons of rejection, but unlike any other man (except for the few who occupy the confines of a well padded wheelchair seat) I am constantly wondering in the back of my mind whether things would be different if I could climb out of the wheelchair. I have had a few discussions with friends who are in wheelchairs and it appears to me that we are all besieged by the some kind of self doubt. They just choose to express it in different forms. Some choose denial, others objectify themselves, and others have ‘faked’ partners. I personally sit quietly and ponder what it all means in isolation, sometimes harming myself emotionally, sometimes seeking happiness in the wrong places.
In my case it certainly doesn’t help that I have an antisocial personally (I hide this with narcissism), and for the most part detest large social situations. The fact that I would prefer to spend the weekend watching the football and a decent movie, rather than go out to party certainly doesn’t help my cause. It is not all about being in a wheelchair. I think I could speculate accurately that if I had the same personality outside the wheelchair I would have severe difficulty trying to find a date. However, I also prescribe to the fact that I would not have my current personality if I weren’t in a wheelchair. The ultimate Catch 22.
To be sure, there are people who say they don’t give a fuck about the wheelchair, but their actions indicate otherwise. Like opposing council in a bad David E. Kelley courtroom drama, these people ask leading questions, which then lead to obvious answers. ‘So you must have been really bullied at school?’ To which I once replied 'Why? Because I was the only guy handsome enough to be hit on by both the girls and the guys?’ (Cue befuddlement) These types of questions are often worse than those that are just downright ignorant. At least they are honest. I’ve talked before about these kinds of horrible stereotypes.
Then there are people who really don’t give a fuck. Almost without fail I can sense these people in five seconds. They have had exposure to people with physical disabilities before. They have gotten their burning questions out of their system, had uncomfortable postures and their looks of stunned amazement are out of their system either out of necessity or by choice. The comfort they feel is easily detectable. There is no case of elongated silences punctuated by a desperate need to start inane conversation, no puzzled stares around the room trying to avoid looking at the wheelchair like it is a golf cart that they secretly wish could be driven around Royal Melbourne.
Those who are not among the crip fraternity might think I am being overly paranoid, but let me tell you this sense is instinctual, and does not require an ounce of concentration. It takes less than a second to pick up this vibe and only a couple of minutes of conversation to confirm it.
Then there are the people who surprise.
Once in a while I will have a conversation with someone who has not any previous exposure to people with physical disabilities and they will treat me like my disability is the most natural thing in the world. On average it happens about once or twice a year. I know when this happens it is a special occurrence and so I treasure the experience. I try and foster long lasting friendships with them if it is possible.
The last time it happened the conversation covered a wide variety of topics, politics, movies, music, books, and our respective personal histories. Not once did the person's gaze deviate towards the wheelchair. Not once did this person have uncomfortable body language. There were no leading questions, no audible gasps of amazement. I was so intrigued by this notion that I had to ask the obvious question, after one of the most comfortable thirty minutes I have experienced:
‘So do you know any people with physical disabilities?’
‘No, you’re the first person I’ve met’
And I believed them.
I knew that this was a person that I wanted in my life for very long time.